Adam Craniotes is a lifelong watch collector based in NYC. He is a published writer both online and in print, and a former senior moderator on Timezone.com. He is the founder of RedBar Group, a worldwide collective with over 40 chapters spread across 4 continents for fellow watch enthusiasts that focuses on face-to-face interaction and social gatherings.
1. What did your father do? what did your mother do? Describe briefly your childhood?
My father was a successful commercial artist and business executive, while my mother is a psychologist.
My childhood was typical for an upper middle class child growing up in Manhattan in the 70s and 80s, though today it might be considered firmly upper class. Mind you, this has more to do with how ridiculously expensive city-living has become, than anything else. When I was growing up, if you wanted to send your kids to private school, you did. If you wanted to live on the upper west side – which is where I grew up – you did. Sure, you had to work hard, but you certainly didn’t have to be a millionaire to pull it off.
These days, I don’t even recognize my old neighborhood. Millionaire? Forget it, now you have to be a billionaire.
As a counterpoint to city life, my twin sister and I spent all of our summers and school vacations in upstate New York with our grandparents, where the vibe was most definitely not “upper middle class”, to say the least. The contrast between both worlds couldn't have been more stark, but to this day I value the perspective that it provided us with.
2. As a child did you have any driving ambition? What did you want to be?
If I’m being perfectly honest here, I didn’t have any particularly overarching desire to be, say, an astronaut or a fireman, or something of that sort. In fact, when asked when I was around four years old – this, according to my mother – I replied, “a truck.” So there’s that.
3. What is your first significant memory as a child?
I must’ve been around two years old. It was during our mid-day nap and there was a thunderstorm, which, quite frankly, was scaring the crap out of me. My sister and I had separate cribs at this point, and I distinctly recall watching her climb out of hers, walk over to mine and climb in to comfort me. I also distinctly recall thinking to myself, “how the hell does she do that?”
I’m not sure I ever quite figured out how to get out of my crib.
4. Have you ever had another profession? What did you do?
I have had quite a few jobs over the years. I started out in technology as a quality assurance tester and content manager. I then moved on to account management and finally landed in advertising. From there it was on to retail, where I worked in Macy’s corporate as a copy director.
5. Who have you worked for in the past? What made you decide to go in the direction you are currently in.
I was at Macy’s when I finally decided to make a go of it with RedBar as a professional concern. By this time I had been moonlighting as a global moderator on Timezone.com. I had also been writing for Gear Patrol, Supercompressor and iW Magazine, so the watch industry wasn’t exactly an unknown to me.
Anyway, one Monday morning my alarm went off, and as was usually the case, I hit “snooze, rolled over and went back to sleep. When the alarm went off again, as was usually the case, I began thinking up excuses I could give my boss for why I wasn’t able to make it in that day. Unfortunately I couldn’t come up with any that I hadn’t used in a while so I resolved to get up and get on with the business of hauling myself to my pointless job. It was during this laborious process that I started wishing for a natural disaster to strike so that work would be closed for the day, which is when it struck me – I’d rather have thousands of innocent people die or be injured than go to work… This was not healthy.
I put my notice in on Wednesday and I was out of there by Friday.
6. What’s the worst job you’ve had to do?
My most miserable work experience had to be with a catering company in Tribeca. They had a small storefront where I worked the register, that is when I wasn’t out making deliveries in what was probably the meanest automobile I’ve ever had the displeasure of driving. (It was an old Dodge minivan with a manual transmission, and let me tell you, NYC traffic and stick-shift minivans do not go hand in hand.)
I met some of the most miserable, ornery, stuck up and pompous jerks at that job… I did learn a valuable lesson, though: I do not belong in the service industry.
7. What’s been the hardest moment in your life so far, and how did you overcome it?
It’s a toss up between losing my father when I was 23 and my open heart surgery when I was 34 – and my wife was four months pregnant with our first child.
Losing my father was difficult for several reasons, though oddly none of them had to do with our incredibly close relationship. That’s because we didn’t have one. He was a distant man, and that distance was made all the greater thanks to his drinking and drug-addiction. That said, I never questioned his love for me, and throughout the acute stage of his losing bout with lung cancer I stayed with him around the clock in the hospital to ensure that what little dignity he had left was maintained. When he died two weeks later it was a relief to know that his suffering was over, but I was left with so many unasked, and therefore, unanswered questions about his life. To this day I still feel as though I never really knew him the way that a son is meant to know his father.
As for my surgery, my biggest fear was dying on the operating table and never meeting my child. The recovery was long and painful, but when my son was born… just, wow. This is why I fought so hard.
How did I overcome these trials? Half has to do with the sheer strength of will that my mother has demonstrated throughout her life, while the other half I credit with the fact that as human beings we have no choice but to move forward. “Give up” is never an option when you really think about it.
8. Who has had the strongest influence on you? What are your greatest inspirations?
My mother has been the strongest influence in my life, bar none. She grew up as a black woman before the civil rights movement, with all that that entails, yet she still managed to overcome the institutional racism and discrimination that were a given and work her way through Cornell University, where she became the first black president of the woman’s student body; move to New York City and put herself through Columbia University, where she earned her master’s degree; travel around the world at a time when as a woman, regardless of her skin tone, she wasn’t expected to do so; build a meaningful, fulfilling career; marry an incredibly intelligent, talented, creative and difficult man; raise twins; go back to school and earn her Ph.D; open a private practice… Phew.
Her sheer force of will can be terrifying to me at times, but I love her to the moon and back. When I feel overwhelmed with life I think about my mother, and then I get back to work.
Inspirations? My twin sister (she’s tough as nails and doesn’t give a damn about what anyone thinks of her). My wife (she puts up with me). My daughter, Lola (she finds joy in the most unlikely of places). My grandfather (not only did he support me in every way possible and show me the love that my father couldn’t, but he also bought me my first watch).
9. What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of finally getting off my ass and taking RedBar to the next level. Leaving the relative safety of corporate life and taking the plunge off the deep end with two young children and a cranky wife at home was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. Indeed, I fought it for far longer than I care to admit, but once I made the move I never looked back.
Fortunately my current partners Kathleen McGivney and James Lamdin were ready to jump off with me and provide the support we needed, and here we are today.
10. What advice would you give to a 20 something someone thinking of taking a similar path as you?
That’s a tough one. “Follow your dreams…” is kind of pithy and obvious, right? I mean, it is sound advice, but the real trick is knowing when to follow said dreams and when to hold off and continue to slave away at something that’s, shall we say, less than dreamy.
But seriously, ask questions constantly, keep your eyes open for opportunities, surround yourself with good people and never be afraid to make a fool out of yourself. Pride should never be part of the equation when you’re attempting to build something bigger than yourself. Humility, on the other hand, should be. (I hate snobs and I despise arrogance.)
11. Name three things on your bucket list. (a bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you die)
1. Jump out of a plane. Yeah, yeah I know this is far from original, but still...
2. Visit every major watch manufacture. (Believe it or not, but I’ve only been to a handful in my time.)
3. Finally take Edouard D’Arbaumount, the president of IWC North America, out to lunch at McDonald’s. Completely on my dime. (I owe him lunch.)
12. Where do you think the industry is going to be in 10 years time.
It seems like the demise of the mechanical watch industry has been in the forecast ever since the quartz crisis, and yet here we are. It has weathered the rise of the cell phone, the ennui of the millenials and now, the advent of the smartwatch.
So, where will we be in ten years? In my opinion, exactly where we are today. That is to say, still meticulously ticking along, albeit perhaps scaled back a bit (too much production, too many SKUs, and, I hate to say it, too many brands – not everyone can, or should make it all the way to the bitter end).
Fine watchmaking exists at fascinating intersection of art, science and engineering, and to be honest, I don’t see that fascination ever fading from the human mindset.
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